Iraqi Rebuilding Draws Expats, Kuwaitis
DOHA, Qatar (AP) _ Iraqi expatriates and Kuwaiti entrepreneurs are inundating U.S. reconstruction officials with requests to build everything from plush resorts to cement factories for the new Iraq.
The temptation to cash in is tempered by worries about security in a country without a government and still plagued by sporadic gun fights. But plenty of firms see potential.
``We get calls all the time, how can they link up,″ said Rafael Jabba, director of economic activities for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq.
Reconstruction spending could reach $600 billion over the next decade and talk of privatizing parts of the economy may open room for new businesses to move in.
Bechtel Corp. is handling the bulk of the postwar rebuilding effort, and USAID refers interested investors to the San Francisco-based company.
Iraqis who have been living abroad or Kuwaitis from next door have an advantage over other foreign investors because they know the region’s language, customs and consumer psychology.
However, Iraqis returning to the home country could be shunned as carpetbaggers by those who weathered the rule of Saddam Hussein. And Kuwaitis could face a backlash for allowing their country to be used as the launching pad for the U.S.-led invasion.
Nevertheless, Jabba said he has been ``inundated″ by requests from dozens of Kuwaiti companies hoping for a piece of the anticipated boom across the border.
Among them is a builder that wants to open a resort around the southern city of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city.
Others are interested in shipping, cement factories, warehouses and in handling the customs clearance of the flood of goods now starting to pour into the country.
``We are definitely interested in doing business in a new Iraq. We are alert and watching,″ said Ghassan al-Khaled, chief executive of Aerated Concrete Industries, a Kuwait-based maker of prefabricated buildings.
And in the United States alone there may be thousands of Iraqis interested in returning for business, said Aziz al-Taee, chairman of the Iraqi-American Council.
Al-Taee fled political persecution in Iraq in 1983 and wants to return to explore opportunities in the wireless communications sector.
``There are no cell phones in much of Iraq,″ said al-Taee, who runs a chain of Philadelphia-based electronics shops. ``That’s the way to the future.″
Citing unrest throughout Iraq, Al-Taee says ``right now is too risky″ to invest. And the lack of government means there also is no one to enforce business contracts.
Jabba’s agency is telling interested investors that they can go in and seal their own deals, but he warns that nothing can be guaranteed.
``You have to take your own level of risk, because we’re not setting laws,″ Jabba said. ``And later when they Iraqi government comes into power, it may work in your favor, it may not.″